Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-UGANDA: Largest Ethnic Group Seeks Self-Rule

Evelyn Kiapi Matsamura

KAMPALA, Feb 6 2003 (IPS) - Members of Uganda’s largest ethnic group, the Baganda, are demanding self-rule, or Federo (Federation) as they call it. And, other ethnic groups are worried.

The Baganda, who comprise 5.5 million of Uganda’s 24 million people, pay allegiance to the Kabaka, or king, a nominal figure under Uganda’s present constitution.

The Baganda want the power of the Kabaka to be reinstated to the pre-1966 period, before King Ronald Mutebi’s father, Muteesa, clashed with Prime Minister Milton Obote and fled to Britain, where he later died.

The Baganda also want Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to be reincorporated into the Kingdom. Uganda’s 1995 constitution curved Kampala out of the kingdom.

Their demands include the return of a 14400-square-kilometre ‘Crown Land’ to the Kabaka; a review of the 1998 Land Act, and return of immunity and privileges of traditional leaders.

All assets, seized by government, must also be returned to the Kabaka as it has been done to Asians, expelled by former military ruler Idi Amin in 1972.

The Baganda claim that, although 65 percent of Ugandans proposed Federo during the 1994 Constituent Assembly exercise – the body that collected views from citizens on what should be included in the 1995 constitution – their demands were omitted.

Uganda, created by Britain in 1894, has 56 ethnic groups. Although all the other ethnic groups are represented in Kampala, the Baganda, who occupy the central region (including Kampala), are the dominant.

The other ethnic groups fear that the Baganda, who occupy 12 of the country’s 56 districts, are seeking to dominate them.

”There is uncertainty and fear that the Baganda could easily become dominant over other ethnic groups. Their position in Kampala could give them an upper hand,” says a political analyst who prefers anonymity.

There is also fear that much of the national revenue would be retained by the federal state, denying other regions access to development. For instance, the Baganda have proposed that the federal government takes over 50 percent of the taxes.

”I would not mind the Federo system but I think (in Uganda it) is based on tribalism,” says Charles Odoi from eastern Uganda.

Some strongly believe that the Baganda want to throw them out of Kampala.

”They want to tax and dominate us. What about all the investments we have put in Kampala? Will they pay it all back to us when they chase us away?” asks Simon Otema, a trader, from northern Uganda.

The Federo supporters, who marched from the King’s palace (Bulange) in Mengo up to the International Conference Centre in Kampala, where the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) sits, on Jan 28, have urged the other Ugandans not to panic.

”The Baganda are just saying what they feel should be given to them. They do not have any hidden agendas as some people are saying,” The New Vision newspaper quoted Apollo Makubuya Vice Chairperson, Buganda Constitution Review Commission, as saying.

The CRC was established in 2001 to seek views from citizens on adjustments they thought the 1995 Uganda Constitution should undergo. The Baganda, who have been demanding Federo since 1994, say they have been ignored for too long.

To some Ugandans, the Federal system of government means nothing. ”At my age, Federo is not my concern,” says Atuhaire John 20, who operates boda-boda (motorbike taxi) in Kampala.

”I do not know what Federo is. And, I do not understand it,” says Charles Banamweba from western Uganda.

Chapaa Karuhanga, leader of the opposition National Democratic Front (NDF), says: ”I think the Baganda have made one big mistake. They are trying to apply for Federo as Buganda. The Kattikiro (Buganda Prime Minister) should lobby other districts of Uganda so that they get one voice. Buganda is central, very important in our politics and even the name Uganda comes from Buganda. They should be able to lobby other districts for the aim of building a strong and civil country”.

After enormous pressure from the Baganda and opposition groups last January, President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement recommended a comprehensive study of the Federo before any action could be taken. The party, in a 16-page document ‘Constitutional Review Exercise Participation of Movement organs’, said, ”The call for Federo is a matter that cannot be wished away but has to be addressed once and for all”.

”Today the debate seems to have drawn on the fruits of democratic governance by the Movement; Federo demands are for the whole country and should not be mixed with the institution of cultural leaders,” the document warned.

Ofwono Opondo, ruling party’s director of information, was quoted by The Monitor newspaper as saying that the demand for Federo is not representative of the views of all Baganda.

Opondo claimed that 90 percent of the demands represent the views of the ‘Mengo clique’ (Baganda Ministers) and not all Baganda. He also said the demand for incorporating Kampala into the kingdom ”is unrealistic as most of the property in the city is private and so special consideration cannot be given to the Baganda on this issue”.

”Kampala is a cosmopolitan city with diverse ethnicity and to revert it to the Baganda would create resentment and antagonism among the people,” The Monitor, an independent newspaper, reported Opondo as saying.

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